Roswell Mayor Jere Wood, a force in Atlanta region, fights removal

Roswell Mayor Jere Wood will not seek a sixth term. KENT D. JOHNSON / KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM AJC FILE PHOTO

Roswell Mayor Jere Wood will not seek a sixth term. KENT D. JOHNSON / KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM AJC FILE PHOTO

Jere Wood’s impact on the city of Roswell can be felt in everything from its park land to its borders. He’s expanded both in the 20 years he’s been mayor.

He's also championed the city's river walk, been a proponent for bike lanes and has pushed for infrastructure improvements as a way to spur development. When he comes down the street on a bicycle or sporting a bow tie, everyone knows who he is, said Nancy Diamond, a member of Roswell's city council.

“He’s kind of added a character to the city, a fun element,” Diamond said. “You would never know we had a weak mayor system.”

But Wood also isn't known for being "warm and fuzzy," she said. Other residents described him as brusque. His detractors say he's allowed too much development in the city, which has grown from about 79,000 residents in 2000, shortly after he took office, to nearly 95,000 in 2016, according to Census data.

Thursday, Wood announced he would not seek another term as mayor — but only after a judge ruled that he had violated the term limits he fought for, and ordered him immediately dismissed from office. That, Wood is fighting. He can remain in office until his appeal is heard, and wants to finish his term, which ends this year.

Wood has been a proponent of term limits since he first beat Pug Mabry in the mayor’s race, an incumbent who had served more than 30 years. He tried twice to get term limits passed before he succeeded in his fourth term, in 2010. The new term limits capped the mayor at three consecutive four-year terms.

In court in May, Wood argued that he hadn't meant the rule to be applied retroactively. He ran unopposed for his fifth term in 2013.

Plenty of residents like Wood. Plenty also think 20 years is far too long for anyone to be in charge of a city — whether it’s someone they like, or not.

Mary Horne moved to the city almost two years ago, from Alpharetta. She said she loves living in a Roswell townhouse, where she can walk to the library. But she wonders if anew mayor might focus more on affordable housing, or build an aquatic center that could be used year-round.

“I think he’s done a good job, but I honestly think it’s time for someone else with fresher ideas going forward,” she said. “His time is up.”

Wood, who did not respond to requests for comment for this story, has his supporters. Fran Mauney said she’s voted for Wood “probably every time he’s run.”

But there are also residents like John Lauer, who’s lived in Roswell for 56 years, and thinks it’s time for Wood to leave. He said the mayor has done some good work, but that he doesn’t like his tone, or the fact that he’s put himself above the law.

“He’s pretty brash, I think. I really haven’t appreciated his attitude,” Lauer said. “I think it’s time. It’s past time.”

Members of Roswell's city council support Wood's decision to appeal, saying it stabilizes the community. So far, Roswell has spent more than $50,000 to defend him in the case.

“I think it adds a level of calm,” said Donald Horton, a member of city council and the mayor pro tem.

It's difficult to overstate Wood's role in the region. He was a founding member of the Metro Atlanta Mayors Association, and several regional leaders count him as a mentor. He started Georgia Rides to the Capitol, an annual event where over 1,000 cyclists ride from Roswell and Decatur to the Capitol to advocate for cycling safety. The event was instrumental in passing the three feet safe passing law and the "Complete Streets" policy for new road projects.

Mike Bodker, mayor of neighboring Johns Creek, said when he first met Wood, he saw him as an adversary. Wood had threatened to annex roughly a third of what is currently Johns Creek.

At the time, Bodker said, Jere “was a four-letter word for all the wrong reasons.” Now, he calls him a close friend.

“I still learn things from watching Jere and talking with Jere,” Bodker said.

Wood operates a sawmill at his home, a restored log cabin from the early 1800s, Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson said. He described Wood as a "renaissance man," and said Roswell has blossomed under his leadership — though he can be controversial.

“You know when Jere’s in the room,” Johnson said. “He lets his opinions fly.”

Comments he made to The New Yorker about 6th district candidate Jon Ossoff reflect that. Wood said, “If you just say ‘Ossoff,’ some folks are gonna think, ‘Is he Muslim? Is he Lebanese? Is he Indian?’ It’s an ethnic-sounding name, even though he may be a white guy, from Scotland or wherever.”

That stuck with Sara Fuchs, who moved to Roswell from Atlanta in October. She called Wood “racist, but accurate” and said his push to enact term limits, but not abide by them, is “hypocritical and self-serving.”

Diamond, the city council member, said Roswell will probably be “quieter” with a new mayor. But she said residents will be hard-pressed to find someone who loves the city as much as Wood, who sometimes tools around town in a three-wheeled Morgan. Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle recalled that he once asked Wood to take his wife for a spin.

“I said ‘Hey mayor, you’d make my wife’s day if you take her around the block in this thing.’ He tosses me the keys and says ‘Here, you do it,’” Belle Isle said.

Belle Isle said he drove Wood’s car around the block and a police officer pulled him over. Wood’s license plate tag was expired.